Now that many school districts across the country are relying on hybrid learning models, parents are scrambling to get their children organized. While securing a laptop for your kids is hard enough, managing their individual school schedules is the definition of headache-inducing. If you have children who are various ages or in different grades, it's important to have your ducks in a row once school kicks back into gear.
To help families navigate this uncertain — and incredibly stressful! — time, we asked Sara Leman, a literacy consultant with Reading Eggs, for her best advice to manage multiple students of various ages who are working at different academic levels. Ahead, get a look at her most helpful tips.
1. Manage expectations at the start of the day.
Being productive starts with a solid morning routine, which means addressing any big projects on your children's to-do list first thing. "It's vital to communicate with your kids about what is expected of them and how the day will run," Sara told POPSUGAR. "If your older kids have a schedule, discuss it with them and negotiate their free-time sessions. For the younger kids, you may have to come up with a list of activities for them to pick and choose from. Use this time to clear up any questions, and to make sure everyone has the resources they require. This will minimize disruptions later."
2. Structure activities so that you're only supervising one child at a time.
You can't be in two places at once! So giving your undivided attention to one kid at a time will help the day run more smoothly. "Not having all your children on task at once will allow you to focus your time and energy where required," explained Sara. "While you assist your older kids with their schoolwork, the younger kids can engage in an independent activity that they enjoy." Sara suggests setting little ones up with a basic craft, having them build with blocks, or having them play in the yard, if that's an option. "Finding something that's safe and enjoyable will keep them motivated and out of your way for a while. Once you have finished supervising the older kids, swap over and let them work on an independent task while you manage the younger kids."
3. Present the same task to all your kids, but differentiate the outcomes.
Although this may take some extra critical thinking on the parents' end, giving children out-of-the-box assignments based on age can be useful when it comes to keeping your sanity. "For example, you could ask your kids to find a way to convince someone to cover their mouth when they cough," suggested Sara. "The younger kids might decide to make a simple poster. The older children could engage in some research, create a presentation, or design a flyer to stop the spread of germs."
4. Get your kids working on an independent project of their choice.
Now is the time to give kids some flexibility when it comes to their education. Allow them to pick a project that interests them that they can pursue independently. "Examples of these projects can include writing and illustrating a book, learning an instrument, researching someone's life, growing a plant, inventing a math puzzle, or designing an invention," said Sara. "Everyone can work on their individual projects at the same time, or while they are waiting for you to finish working or supervising their siblings."
5. Create separate learning spaces, if needed.
If you've ever taken a long car ride with the family, then you know that close quarters aren't always the best option for kids, especially when they're learning. "While it may seem easier to keep your kids in one space, it can lead to more distractions," explained Sara. "Find portions of the day where your children can have their own space and quiet time. This may mean one child is outside while the other does reading in their room." (Parents can also try out this mom's affordable DIY hack for keeping kids focused.)
6. Take advantage of the wealth of quality online resources.
Between zillions of free online educational resources and academic games and apps for kids, there's no shortage of helpful content out there! "Programs such as Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress are designed to allow your kids to work independently and at their own pace," said Sara. "Kids can learn while having fun."
7. Minimize disruptions.
Keeping kids focused for extended periods of time is a big key to finding success while learning at home. "Prepare healthy snacks in advance and leave them somewhere accessible," said Sara, who said that this way, children will be able to access food without disrupting their parents." It's also worth investing in some decent headphones. Kids can get easily distracted if they hear a sibling watching or playing something online. Plug the headphones into the device and minimize the conflict!"
8. Find commonalities in curriculums.
Just because your children may be in different grades doesn't mean there won't be opportunities for collaboration or group learning. "Review schedules and curriculums to find commonalities. This can help you find opportunities for group learning. And remember, the curriculum is not always set in stone," offered Sara. "Some days a lesson that requires adult supervision won't work with your schedule. In these instances, have a discussion with your children's teacher to better understand where there is flexibility or room to adjust for your family."
9. Encourage children to help each other.
"The reality is, parents need help during this difficult time," said Sara. "You can't be present at all times, especially for parents juggling hybrid learning while working. Encourage your children to help one another when possible. Have a discussion at the beginning of the school year to talk about common scenarios (being hungry, done with a lesson, etc.) and how they can manage certain situations on their own. This will help with problem-solving skills while also reducing the number of daily interruptions."
10. Have some back-up activities ready.
When it comes to learning at home, the phrase, 'By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail' rings true, especially when you have multiple kiddos! "A little bit of planning ahead can make a massive difference. If your kids complete the task they have been set, have a list of fun activities ready for them to do whilst they wait," said Sara. "This ensures they won't come disturb you if they've finished one activity and need to move onto the next." Here are a few ideas for parents to bookmark:
- Plan their dream home or bedroom. Design the different areas.
- Draw around some 3D objects. Can the other kids figure out what they are?
- Bake a simple cake or some cookies. Measure all the ingredients carefully.
- Learn how to write their name in Morse Code.
- Make a new zoo enclosure using blocks, Play-Doh, or cardboard.
- Cut out some pages from a magazine. Write a story about them.
- Count all the windows in their home. How many are open?
- Collect 15 leaves and order them according to size or area.
- Make and fly paper planes. Measure the distance of each throw.
11. Be kind to yourself!
"Despite the benefits of routine, a degree of flexibility is also essential under these circumstances. Be prepared for those days when everything just spirals out and the routine goes to pieces. Don't be hard on yourself or your kids," she said. "Lower your expectations and don't panic if you feel your kids aren't covering as much of the curriculum as they would in school. These are unprecedented times and you can only do what you can do!"